EngSci's Top 10 Recommendations for Online Learning

Related people and/or projects: Will Cluett

Drawn from a student survey and a town hall, the Division of Engineering Science collected an extensive set of feedback from students regarding their fall learning experience. These are their Top 10 recommendations for instructors teaching EngSci (though the advice is certainly applicable widely).

This list was compiled by the Division of Engineering Science (EngSci) Leadership Team. Links to resources were added by the EdTech Team. If you have questions about implementing a strategy suggested below, or any question really, we enourage you to book a consultation or send us an email at fase.edtech@utoronto.ca.

1. Offer (some) synchronous time with your students...

Students are stating, overwhelmingly, that they prefer synchronous lectures, particularly for classes with a lot of mathematics or engineering problem solving (see the guide to facilitating synchronous (live, real time) online sessions, including which webinar tools you can select from, what to do beforeduring, and after your session. The pacing of synch lectures is more appropriate, and students can better see your thinking and problem-solving skills as you work through your content (lecturing from a tablet is a popular approach) . If students can attend these synch lectures, it gives them the opportunity to ask you questions in real time (see introducing webinar etiquette).  Weekly, synchronous office hours are also a top request from students (see how to schedule office hours using Quercus' Calendar/Scheduler tool). 

2. But also, create short, asynchronous resources

If you are creating asynchronous reference material, students report that they do much better with videos that are up to 10-15 minutes in duration, rather than the full 50 minutes, and focus on a single concrete topic. Keep in mind that students typically take 2-3 times as long to view an asynchronous video compared to its actual run time. Students also noted that asynchronous videos produced throughout the term, rather than before the start of the class, allowed instructors to respond to student understanding and needs. (Creating videos - maybe for the first time? - book a 60-minute technical session to get you set up with your hardware and software, review strategies to make editing easier, and see how to use a video component template to ensure strong instructional videos).

3. Support community building 

Students really appreciate time to connect with you and their peers. We would encourage you to integrate collaborative activities (see incoporating quick active learning activitieshow to manage break-out groups, or implement a three-minute movement break) and carve out time for more casual conversation in your synchronous online activities.  A specific goal of your tutorials should be to encourage engagement and social connection between students, regardless of the subject matter. A few minutes at the beginning to ask, “how are you doing?” goes a long way.

4. Organizing assignments is key 

Please make every effort possible to put all assignment details into one document and do your best to think through all the parameters of the assignment before it is posted (you might also consider booking an Assessment Review consultation). Students really struggle to pull together bits of information from different platforms and documents to complete their work in a timely fashion. Likewise, a comprehensive syllabus that includes assignments and their deadlines, course policies, where important information will be posted, and other information relevant to your course is very helpful (see updating your course syllaus for online; includes some template text). Be aware of technological overload; each course introduces students to multiple tools. Consider how you can streamline your course outcomes with fewer and commonly used tools versus a myriad of unique tools.

5. Be careful with Piazza

If you are using Piazza, students really appreciate the use of clearly labelled folders to organize the discussion threads for your course (see how to create custom folders). Students have indicated they really struggle to read through all the various postings to find relevant details. Instructors might consider summarizing key points from the discussion boards using a single pinned post with links back to other important posts (see how to pin a post to the top of everyone's feed). 

6. Offer your students flexibility and understanding 

Many students are really struggling with technology challenges, social and academic isolation, and the other side-effects of a global pandemic. Therefore, showing your students some flexibility and understanding goes a long way to alleviating some of these struggles. Also, remember that the tone of electronic communications is often difficult to convey as intended, so be sensitive when constructing your messages (see also how to share a quick video in a Quercus announcement).

7. Record and Post your Activities 

Please remember to record and post all activities (except for office hours, as this may not be appropriate) and make these videos downloadable (for Bb Collaborate, see how to record, how to access recordings, etc.), especially for students who might be learning from different timezones. For usability and accessibility, you might also review How do I add captions to my Bb Collaborate Recordings?

8. Offer real-time support during tests 

During tests, make sure there is an opportunity for students to ask questions “live.” Many students have suggested using an open zoom or Bb Collaborate course room (see How do I create a new scheduled session?) during testing for questions and announcements, which works effectively for synchronous assessments of a limited time period (< 3 hrs). If you are running an assessment over a longer period, please provide students with a mechanism for asking questions. See also creating a contingency plan for your online assessment.

9. Relax how much material you can expect to deliver

In this on-line learning environment, you can expect it will take longer to get through your course material. Rather than trying to rush and squeeze everything in, you may find it helpful to focus on the more critical concepts. Also, you may want to rethink the necessity of all your assessment pieces and other student requirements and consider a slight reduction in expectations (see how to assess learning for ideas on both traditional and alternative assessment strategies).

10. Uploading work can be a challenge

Students expressed concern about the uploading process during timed tests and exams. Different students have different qualities of internet connectivity, and tight timelines can make things very stressful. One approach that students favoured was one deadline for numerical answers, and a second deadline for scanned work. This took the pressure off getting everything quickly scanned all at once (see how to submit handwritten or paper-based work) and kept things more even and fair in terms of time to actually complete the test. To set build in buffer times when submitting, you might also consider booking an Assessment Review consultation.

Looking for design or technical support for Quercus and/or the Academic Toolbox? Email fase.edtech@utoronto.ca